Jewish Insider Daily Kickoff – Dec. 3
First Look – Ron Dermer profile in Politico Magazine by Ron Kampeas — ‘Bibi’s Brain’ Comes to Washington: Can Dermer, dubbed “Bibi’s Brain” by an American Jewish publication and “Bibi’s Mirror” by an Israeli newspaper, reset the fraught relationship between Obama and Netanyahu? The “yes, he can” argument goes something like this: No one knows Netanyahu better than Dermer, who is also one of the few Israelis to really understand the American political landscape. “Ron Dermer’s significance now cannot be overrated,” says Ari Shavit, a writer for the liberal Haaretz newspaper. “Prime Minister Netanyahu is probably the loneliest head of state one can imagine,” Shavit told me. “There are very few people he truly trusts and appreciates, and Ron Dermer is one of them. If Washington plays it right and Dermer plays it right and they enable America and Israel to start a new page—a new dialogue in which leading American players will find a way to his heart and mind while he finds a way to their hearts and minds—it might be good news.”
–The other view is that Dermer will entrench in Washington a bunker mentality that has isolated Netanyahu and helped perpetuate the breakdown in relations with Israel’s closest and most important ally. “Among the White House’s inner circle—Denis McDonough, Ben Rhodes—Dermer is a red flag,” says Barak Ravid, Haaretz’s political correspondent, referring respectively to the White House chief of staff and deputy national security adviser. “They see him as the guy who incited Congress and Jewish organizations against Obama.” It’s a reputation that Dermer’s defenders say is unfair—it does not take into account missteps by Obama and his team, and understates Netanyahu’s determinative role in shaping relations with Washington. But it is a reputation that continues to dog Dermer nonetheless. When I asked about him, a Democratic source on the Hill who is close to Jewish groups blamed Dermer for distributing talking points on Iran, critical of the White House, to Republican members of Congress. Asked for evidence, the source said, “Who else?”
–Nicolas Muzin, the director of coalitions for the House Republican Conference, says Dermer was respectful and never partisan in his pitch—but emphatic. “He’s been trying to make the case that the sanctions relief is more than dollar value because it’s the change in momentum [that really matters],” Muzin says, underscoring an Israeli claim that the $7 billion the Obama administration says Iran could earn from eased sanctions may be a low-ball figure.
His predecessor Michael Oren says he believes that Dermer can and will overcome the suspicion that he was an architect of the Netanyahu-Obama tensions. “I understand that was the perception of him, but the reality is going to be different, because it has to be,” Oren told me. “He’s going to understand that to be an effective ambassador, he has to be scrupulously bipartisan.” Differences over Iran will be a test. “Clearly the prime minister is not impressed with this arrangement,” Oren adds. “Does that mean you actively campaign against it, lobby against it, or are you briefing people on the Hill? I have a feeling it will be the latter. Over the next six months, Israel will try to have a close conversation with the administration over what we consider a safe deal.” Can Dermer straddle the line between presenting Israel’s case and pressuring the United States to embrace it? “Lobbying has a negative connotation. Lobbying is putting pressure on someone,” Oren notes. “What an ambassador does is explain. That doesn’t involve attacking the president’s position but explaining ours.” [PoliticoMag]
Scene Last Night – JINSA (The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs) awarded the 2013 Henry M. Jackson Distinguished Service Award to Senator Mark Kirk in DC; Michael Bloomberg threw his final Hanukkah bash as NYC Mayor [Video] & announced he plans to use the $1M from the Geneses Prize “to promote commerce between the people in Palestine and the people in Israel”; Florida Gov. Rick Scott hosted a Hanukkah party in the Governors mansion; Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick lit the menorah at the Mass. State House:
Obama invites Israeli NBA player Omri Casspi to light the menorah at the White House: [YNet]
Video: PM Netanyahu Meets Pope Francis at the Vatican [YouTube] — @Yair_Rosenberg explains why Netanyahu gave the Pope his father’s book on the history of the Spanish Inquisition – he writes it may seem undiplomatic, but it was actually pretty clever: [TabletMag]
Israel admitted into advisory body to UN: “The U.S. and other Western countries have admitted Israel into an informal group in Geneva that will provide it with some influence before the U.N. top human rights body, officials said Monday. The American Jewish Committee’s executive director, David Harris, said the decision “ends the shameful anomaly whereby Israel was the only U.N. member state not fully integrated in the world body’s regional grouping system.” [AP]
John Kerry: US working to end anti-Israel bias at UN [ToI]
U.S calls for release of American Jew Alan Gross jailed in Cuba: “The United States called on Monday for the immediate release of an American contractor jailed for the past four years in Cuba, saying his continued captivity on the communist-ruled island was “gravely disappointing.” “Tomorrow, development worker Alan Gross will begin a fifth year of unjustified imprisonment in Cuba,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement. “It is gravely disappointing, especially in light of its (Cuba’s) professed goal of providing Cubans with Internet access, that the Cuban government has not allowed Mr. Gross to return to his family, where he belongs.” Gross was arrested in Havana on December 3, 2009, for his work on a semi-covert U.S. program promoting political change on the island. Cuba has said it considered the work to be subversive. Gross said he was in Cuba to set up communications equipment to give unrestricted Internet access to Jewish groups. A judge said that activity was a crime against the Cuban state and sentenced Gross to 15 years behind bars.” [Reuters]
LA Times – Scholar fights to keep Jewish artifacts from returning to Iraq — Harold Rhode’s elation at finding the trove during the Iraq war has since turned to outrage that the salvaged texts might go back: “Harold Rhode still recalls the euphoria he felt a decade ago after finding thousands of dripping, moldy artifacts of Iraq’s once-vibrant Jewish community in the flooded basement of Saddam Hussein’s intelligence service headquarters in Baghdad. “How do you describe it? An enormous elation, a deep connection, but also shock: Why would this be here?” says the 64-year-old former Pentagon official, an Orthodox Jew who discovered the purloined archive in the bombed-out building days after he arrived in the Iraqi capital with the U.S. invasion force in the spring of 2003. A small portion of the collection, which includes 2,700 books and 10,000 documents, recently went on display at the National Archives building in Washington and will move on to New York. Among the documents are a 200-year-old Talmud from Vienna; a 19th century Passover Haggadah, published in Baghdad and edited by its chief rabbi; a copy of “Ethics of the Fathers,” published in Livorno, Italy, in 1928 with handwritten notes in Hebrew; and a collection of rabbinical sermons made in Germany in 1692.
–But like the arc of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, Rhode’s involvement with the Iraqi Jewish archives has progressed from exhilaration to disillusionment and recrimination. State Department officials say the plan is for the collection to be returned to Iraq late next summer. But the campaign to prevent that seems to be picking up steam. In a statement released last month, more than 40 American Jewish groups said they were “deeply troubled” by the prospect of the documents being returned to Iraq, citing “uncertain conditions” there. They called for the books and papers to be provided “to synagogues of Iraqi Jews in the U.S. and elsewhere to be used and their sanctity protected.” At a hearing last month before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, lawmakers grilled Brett H. McGurk, deputy assistant secretary of State. He affirmed that the U.S. was committed to the “safe and rightful return of these artifacts” but also acknowledged that “we have heard loudly and clearly the concerns” of the Jewish community. “We’ll see what we can do.” [LATimes]
Fox News Chief Washington Correspondent James Rosen challenged State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki over State Department lies regarding secret Iran talks: Video — [Politico]
White House denies report that Obama is planning trip to Iran: [ToI]
National Journal — Security Insiders: World Powers Struck a ‘Good Deal’ With Iran – ‘Experts’ divided over whether interim deal will lead to lasting agreement: [NationalJournal]
Liberal pollster finds support for Iran deal; plans to brief congressional Democrats – Alex Burns [Politico]
Jeffrey Goldberg – Middle East Mess Isn’t About Settlements: “In an interview with Charles Gati in Politico Magazine, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as national security adviser to Jimmy Carter, proves once again that he is a man of profound religious faith. He worships at the Church of Linkage, which holds that Israel’s settlement policy on the West Bank is the primary cause of Middle East instability and a principal cause — if not the main cause — of the U.S.’s troubles in the Muslim world.
–There is danger in thinking that the removal of these settlements would bring about a liberal, enlightened Middle East. The danger is analytical: If you don’t understand what ails the Middle East, how can you possibly fix it? It is also dangerous to scapegoat Israel for problems it didn’t cause, in the same way that it has historically been quite dangerous to blame the Jewish people for problems they didn’t cause. Brzezinski’s native Poland provides lessons in this regard.” Goldberg lists 10 ‘bigger’ reasons why the Middle East is a mess [Bloomberg]
J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami OpEd — In Reaction to Iran Deal, a Clash of WorldViews: [Forward]
Shany Mor — Do American Jews Live in a Cocoon? Peter Beinart thinks so. He’s wrong. [New Republic]
Fascinating Only in Israel Story – Daniel Estrin – “Here’s what happened when Israel’s prime minister stopped beneath my apartment balcony” — “Last Saturday, I was pruning some plants on the balcony of my fourth-floor apartment in Jerusalem when I tossed a dead leaf over the ledge and saw Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu standing below. I was surprised. The prime minister’s official residence is just up the street, but he usually gets around by motorcade. It was the first time I had seen him walking around the block since he took office. What surprised me more was why he (and his son and about 15 armed guards) had stopped below my building. He was on a Sabbath stroll in the neighborhood, wearing sneakers and a black shirt, and had stopped to help an old man take out the trash.” [PRI]
Nazi hitman Henrich Boere dies in prison hospital aged 92: [DailyMail]
ADL Blasts Kanye West Remarks: [Forward]
Top Talker – Hasidic Man Victim of Latest ‘Knockout’ Game Assault in Williamsburg: h/t Drudge [CBS New York]
23 year old Jewish Federation of Omaha employee, Justin Spooner, filed papers to run for the Nebraska Legislature: [AP]
Israeli Billionaire Benny Steinmetz’s BSGR To Strike Out In Guinea Amid Bribery Probes But Vale Still On Deck: “It’s a plot worthy of a Hollywood thriller: a deceased West African dictator, lucrative mining rights and an elusive Swiss-based billionaire. When the Israeli-French mining tycoon Benny Steinmetz sold his 51 percent stake in Guinea’s Simandou iron core concession to Brazil’s mining giant Vale VALE -2.81% for $2.5 billion in 2010, it was proclaimed by some as the deal of the century. However, Steinmetz’s company BSGR had originally acquired the rights for just $165 million from the country’s now departed military ruler, fueling rumors that the levers of the deal had been greased with gifts and kickbacks.
–But there is a new sheriff in town and Guinea’s current president Alpha Condé is expected to cancel BSGR’s rights in Simandou once an ongoing investigation is completed, according to a person familiar with the matter. “It will be like declaring a marriage void. It will be like it never happened,” he said. A key date in the process is December 10, when the government of the West African country will conclude its probe, which has included asking BSGR to respond to specific allegations of inappropriate gifts and payments to government officials.
–The Guinean parliament is expected to support any decision by Condé, especially after the Supreme Court earlier this month confirmed the results of elections held on September 28 and the president convinced five small parties to join his ruling coalition, the person familiar with the matter added. But BSGR has stated publicly that any move to strip them of its mining rights would be illegal. Yet once the current administration strips BSGR of its rights, the government will be “legally free” to award the concession to another entity, the person familiar explained. Guinea is also reviewing its laws underpinning such mining concessions and the development of Simandou is crucial for Condé’s reelection aspirations in 2015, he added.” [Forbes]
Background Flashback – Back in July, Patrick Radden Keefe, wrote about this saga in the New Yorker in a piece titled — Buried Secrets: How an Israeli billionaire wrested control of one of Africa’s biggest prizes. [NewYorker]
Bronfman – Schron group bailing out of Discount Bank – Eight years after buying control from the government, the investor group led by Matthew Bronfman and Rubin Schron is selling its 25% stake in Israel’s third-largest lender: [Haaretz]
Startups stand to gain from Stephen Schwarzman’s non-Hilton investments: [UpStart]
#JewishStartUp Education App Store Chalkable Acquired by STI: [EdSurge]
StartUp Nation — Israeli tech startups drawing interest from heavyweights like Apple and Facebook [RawStory]
Israeli Startup Develops Wireless Mobile Chargers Using Infrared Light: [NoCamels]
3 Israeli tech companies make Deloitte European top ten: [Globes]
Will Israel Be The Focus Of Mexican Telecom Mogul Carlos Slim’s Next Investment Spree? — “After a meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres in Mexico City last week, Mexican telecom tycoon Carlos Slim Helú, said he was open to technology-related business proposals in Israel, especially in education, health, communications and trade, Tel Aviv’s newspaper Haaretz reported. Peres extended an invitation to Slim to visit Israel in 2014. Carlos Slim Domit, Slim’s eldest son, told Peres’ staff he would send a delegation of top executives to consider cooperation, the newspaper said. Slim Helú said he did not plan to join his son’s delegation. “I prefer to come alone,” he told Haaretz. Slim Domit, Chairman of the telephone monopoly Telmex and global conglomerate Grupo Carso, used a recent investment by América Móvil in Israeli app Mobli as a model of the type of potential investments in Israeli firms.” [Forbes]
Real Estate RoundUp
18 of the 20 Biggest NYC Real Estate Moguls are Jewish: “Intelligence firm Wealth-X released data on the top 20 real estate moguls in New York City, ranked according to their personal net worth. 18 out of 20 moguls are Jewish. They are (in order of rank) 1. Richard LeFrak; 2. Leonard Stern; 3. Stephen Ross; 4. Sheldon Solow; 6. Steven Roth; 7. Jerry Speyer; 7. Katherine Farely; 9. Leon Charney; 10. Kamran Thomas Elghanayan; 10. Tamir Sapir; 12. Michael J. Fuchs; 13. Robert Sillerman; 14. Larry Silverstein; 16. Gary Barnett; 17. Henry Elghanayan; 18. Michael Dezer; 19. Edward Minskoff; 20. Bruce Ratner. The exceptions are (#4.) Donald Trump and (#15.) Michael Fascitelli. [JewishInsider]
Joe Sitt’s Thor snaps up Phillip Lim location for $17M. Lipa Lieberman represented the seller. [RealDeal]
Judge rules Bistricer’s letter should not be disclosed: “In the ongoing legal war between ski areas, Talisker Land Holdings has won a skirmish. Third District Court Judge Ryan Harris turned down a request from the Park City Mountain Resort, and ruled that a letter from Talisker executive Jack Bistricer, currently sealed in the court record, should not be disclosed. The judge said the letter was part of confidential settlement discussions between the two sides. Rick Brough has more.” [KPCW]
Ben Gurion Airport Terminal 3 expansion approved: [Globes]
Jewish ‘Shmatta’ Industry Update – The Ovadia brother’s Ovadia & Sons sample sale is this thursday: [GQ]
Dessert – Forbes: Is Kosher The Next Big Thing? “Total kosher sales in 1960 represented 10% of total kosher food sales in 2010, according to the Kosher Advisory Service. Kosher products are projected to generate $17 billion in sales in 2013. There are 3,400 companies that are certified with the Orthodox Union, one of the largest organizations that grants kosher certification, and there are 70,000 products in grocery stores that are kosher, up from 3,000 in 1970, according to the Kosher Advisory Service. “Coca-Cola and other giants are not paying millions to participate in kosher programs to exclusively reach the observant,” says Yaakov Horowitz, Rabbi of the Manischewitz Company. “They are doing it to meet the needs of mainstream Americans who perceive that all kosher products are better in every way, which may or may not be true in all instances.”
–Indeed, only 15% of those who purchase kosher products do so for religious reasons, reports Mintel. Of the 11.2 million Americans who do purchase kosher items, most who seek out kosher products buy the items for food quality (62%), general healthfulness (51%), and food safety (34%), reports Mintel. “There are four dynamic groups – Jewish that exclusively buy kosher, Jewish that don’t exclusively buy kosher, ‘heimish’ ultra-orthodox Jewish, and the non-Jewish – that buy kosher and each is complex with different reasons drawing them to buy kosher,” says Rabbi Horowitz. “Kosher means something very different to those that buy it.” Despite this shift to widespread availability, kosher remains a tough sell, both for consumers and the food industry.
–There are a number of challenges which currently hinder kosher from reaching its full potential. Unlike the organic industry, there isn’t a cohesive or collaborative effort to promote the kosher industry as a whole. Each of the four major organizations that grant kosher certification, for instance, all use different symbols. These varying signs make it challenging for consumers to recognize or identify kosher products. “Everyone in the kosher industry really needs to get behind it,” says Terri Meyer of the ad agency The Terri and Sandy Solution. “They need to get the word out. The organic seal has meaning and is well-known.” In addition to the lack of a universal and recognizable symbol, food brands and grocers all enact different strategies to market kosher goods. The kosher hot dog coalition, for instance, approaches the market differently than the kosher pasta coalition does. Some food brands, such as French’s Mustard, actively promote their affiliation as a kosher product. Others, such as Heinz and Gatorade, keep it less prominent. As one kosher industry analyst wonders, “It seems companies spend millions to ensure their products are kosher, but keep this certification hidden from everyone but those who know how to look for it.” Consumers, for their part, typically have two key obstacles when it comes to purchasing kosher products. First, there’s kosher’s religious affiliation with Judaism which means to many non-Jewish individuals that kosher isn’t for them. “Kosher’s biggest challenge is its identity. It’s a double-edged sword. There’s the baggage with the Jewish connection, but there is also comfort in all of that,” says Charlie Harary a professor at Yeshiva University’s Syms School of Business. The other challenge is a simple lack of awareness.” [Forbes]
Thats all folks, have a great Tuesday!
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